By Matt Nauman
Being able to work on ancient archeological sites on coastal land that’s part of PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant property represents a “fabulous opportunity” for students at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.
“These students are really, really lucky,” says Dr. Terry Jones, a professor of anthropology at the school and chairman of its department of social sciences.
The work of Jones and his students was highlighted at the Wildlife Habitat Council’s annual award ceremony held recently in Baltimore.
PG&E received the Council’s Corporate Lands for Learning accreditation for its Diablo Canyon Land Stewardship Program. Jones, meanwhile, was a Community Partner of the Year finalist, nominated by PG&E.
Also, two Cal Poly students attended the conference to present a poster on their work at the Diablo Canyon sites. Their trip was paid for by the Wildlife Habitat Council and PG&E.
Jones has been working for several decades on sites that are eroding along the Central California coast. This work started with state parks land and continued as PG&E was about to open the Point Buchon Trail, one of two coastal trails near the nuclear plant.
Jones initially was opposed to opening these trails, fearing that increased visitation would hasten the pace of erosion at the ancient cultural sites located nearby. Instead, a deal was stuck between Cal Poly and PG&E and now Jones and his students work with utility cultural-resource specialists to excavate and recover artifacts that “would otherwise be lost,” Jones said. The work is done in close consultation with a Northern Chumash tribal monitor.
“These prehistoric materials otherwise would be falling into the ocean,” he said.
At one site, near the Point Buchon Trail, stone tools and hunting implements, shells and shell beads and bones from fish, birds and sea mammals have been found. They are from 3,000 to 5,000 years old, Jones said.
Excavation continues at another location, Jones said, although its exact location isn’t disclosed to protect the resources, some of which are 7,000 years old.
Many of these sites have been known since the late 1940s and early 1950s. That’s when an archeologist from Berkeley would come home to San Luis Obispo for the summer and walk the coast looking for sites. Then, in 1968, as PG&E began preparing to build Diablo Canyon, large-scale excavations were conducted to mitigate impacts from the plant’s construction.
‘Sites are old and important’
“These sites are old and important,” Jones said. His students typically spend one class session, or about eight weeks, in the field, doing excavation and recovery work, and then another class session in the lab, identifying bones and dating and cataloging materials.
“These are real sites, real materials,” said Jones. “It’s a great real-life experience.”
Two of his undergraduate archeology students — Samantha Law and Roshanne Bakhtiary – traveled to Baltimore earlier this month to present a poster detailing the work they’ve been doing.
“Dr. Jones has been an outstanding partner for PG&E at Diablo Canyon,” said Mike Taggart, a cultural resource specialist for the utility. “We are fortunate to work with such an accomplished and respected scholar. His passion for archaeology is infectious, inspiring several of his former students to pursue careers in archaeology and cultural resource management. “
In 2011, Taggart helped facilitate the field work for Jones’ Cal Poly students.
Jones characterizes his work with PG&E as “a good relationship.” It’s a great opportunity for students and PG&E gets to demonstrate its real-world commitment to environmental stewardship.
The Corporate Lands for Learning certification of PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Land Stewardship Program is a confirmation of the company’s goal to make sure the property near the plant benefits the public. Those benefits include managing public access to and along Diablo Canyon lands (Pecho Coast and Point Buchon Trails), natural resource conservation and restoration, fuel management for site safety and wildlife habitat enhancement purposes, and to ensure that sustainable agricultural is carried out in an environmentally sensitive manner.
PG&E works with local organizations and community members on these programs, said Sally Krenn, a PG&E biologist who works at Diablo Canyon.
Management innovations include using goats to manage wildland fuels and the manual and mechanical removal as well as the use of select herbicides to reduce fuel sources such as exotic “pest plants” while minimizing potential harm to wildland habitat. A managed grazing program has resulted in a healthier rangeland habitat that sustains native plant species while reducing the propagation and spread of invasive plant species.
The Pecho Coast managed accessed program has raised environmental awareness. This program provides employees and members of the local community an annual opportunity to become trained as docent naturalists. These naturalists lead groups of interested parties along the Pecho Coast trail while providing cultural, historic, plant, and animal information about this unique location. Several employees are currently trained Pecho Coast docent naturalists.
Krenn, PG&E forester Jason Thompson and Dan Stocks, a fire captain at Diablo Canyon, attended the Wildlife Habitat Council event.
Also at the event, PG&E’s Geothermal Inc. landfill restoration project in Lake County was recertified for three years as a Wildlife at Work project.
The Wildlife Habitat Council certification is a coveted designation. There are strict criteria and it’s only awarded to sites that meet certain requirements and to programs that have been active at least one year.
Email Matt Nauman at email@example.com.